Reflections on light

24 September 2014 | Extracts, Non-fiction

Speaking House #12, 2006. Photo: Marja PIrilä

Speaking House #12, 2006. Photo: Marja PIrilä

A camera obscura (‘darkened room’) is the optical device that made photography possible; it is a box – or a room – with a hole in one side. Photographer Marja Pirilä has been using this method as a tool for almost 20 years. The book Carried by Light spans more than 30 years of her photography.

In the book artist and researcher Jyrki Siukonen notes in his essay ‘Eyes and Cameras’ that ‘in photographing spaces Pirilä also depicts people. The dreams continue on the walls of the empty building, as if after the people the house had become like them and were dreaming the dreams itself.’

Photographs and text extracts from Carried by Light by Marja Pirilä (Musta Taide, 2014)

Interior/Exterior: Lalla, Rouen, France, 2007. Photo by Marja Pirilä

Interior/Exterior: Lalla, Rouen, France, 2007. Photo: Marja Pirilä

My idea in embarking on a project entitled ‘Interior/Exterior’ was a nocturnal inspiration: in a room converted into a camera obscura I could capture an image of a person and at the same time that person’s room and the view from the window – what an all-encompassing method by which to photograph a person’s living environment!

Interior/Exterior: Otto, Tampere, Finland, 2002. Photo: Marja Pirilä

Interior/Exterior: Otto, Tampere, Finland, 2002. Photo: Marja Pirilä

The originally documentary idea soon expanded in a new direction. The pictures began to form not only a person’s living environment but also to constitute an excursion into the mental landscape: reflections of memories, reveries, fears and dreams.

Working on this series was for me like taking photographs for a family album: visitations to people and also to myself.

To take the pictures I transform people’s rooms into camera obscura by covering the windows of the room with blackout plastic and placing on top the hole cut in it a simple convex lens.

Then the view outside the window is reflected upside down into the room forming a dreamy layered space. This and the occupant of the room I then photographed with a conventional camera.

In 2004 I came upon a large building which had stood vacant for 15 years – a former mental hospital. Its densely coloured walls, having seen better days, and having been used for colour therapy, became ever more remarkable when filled with upside-down images from the world outside.

Speaking House #3, 2006. Photo: Marja Pirilä

Speaking House #3, 2006. Photo: Marja Pirilä

Interior/exterior:: Eero, Tampere, 2013. Photo: Marja Pirilä

Interior/exterior:: Eero, Tampere, 2013. Photo: Marja Pirilä

I photographed the series ‘Speaking House’ in the period 2004–2006. The times of day and the seasons changed and in that building the light always had something different to say.

Working there was light meditation as the sun went round the building and the earth went round the sun. The exposure times were long, as much as an hour, as at that time I was still using film.

I began photographing the Milavida mansion in Tampere in 2011. The buiilding, currently known as Näsilinna. Had been standing empty for years.

As I worked long days in the deserted silence of the house, its spaces began to exude its varied and wild history. In the rooms which I transformed into camera obscura it felt as if present and past were engaged in a constant dialogue.

The pictures of ‘Milavida’ recorded transitional spaces, doors, thresholds and doorways which reflected my feeling in the face of a change in life and the unknown and my love of light and its capriciousness.

Milavida #14, Tampere, 2013. Photo: Marja Pirilä

Milavida #14, Tampere, 2013. Photo: Marja Pirilä

Marja Pirilä: Carried by Light. English translations: Virginia Mattila. Helsinki: Musta Taide 3/2014, Aalto Photo Books. ISBN 978-952-292-010-2

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